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Colombian student's dreams become reality in NYC

By Haleigh Zueger, Special to The Chronicle

Meet Hofstra senior Luz Peña, a double major in Broadcast Journalism and Political Science. Students may recognize Peña from her star-studded coverage of the Academy Awards after she won the mtvU Oscars Correspondent competition representing Hofstra earlier this year. But what many may not know is that Peña joined the Hofstra community all the way from her hometown of Barranquilla, Colombia, a Caribbean port city in northern Colombia, known for its strong industrial port, vibrant festivals and cultural activity. Now in her third semester at Hofstra, Peña opens up about what it's like to grow up on two different continents, and how her experiences in both Colombia and the United States have helped to develop her educational and professional goals.

Adjusting to life in the United States has been an interesting journey for Peña. Beyond traveling to Disney World and vacationing as a child, Peña wasn't sure what to expect when she moved to the United States at the age of twelve. "I remember visiting America as a child and being proud that I could speak English and relate to the rest of the children;" said Peña, "the people here were very different." She has lived on Long Island for two years, and in the United States for 10 years so Peña is confident in her American identity. "I've gotten used to living in the U.S.; this is where I want to be. There are so many opportunities for my career here."

Despite her choice to relocate to the United States, Peña speaks very highly of her home country, debunking major global misconceptions about Colombia being an unsafe place to live. "It's totally safe;" said Peña, "the news makes it looks like you're going to get kidnapped when you get out of the plane. That's such a lie. Those are not things that actually happen to regular people."

Peña describes her home country as comfortable, family-oriented and–especially applicable to her hometown of Barranquilla–festive. "Colombians know how to celebrate," stated Peña, referencing the two week long Carnival of Barranquilla, an annual celebration in her home city. "Colombia is very family oriented. Not like the United States, which seems to be more focused on the individual."

Peña misses the diverse organic food that is available to her in Colombia. "In Colombia, you can eat so much and everything is so healthy. Things are actually made from scratch. At every meal, you have a different type of juice—actual fruit juice. Everything is organic and basically just healthier."

 Another major adjustment that Peña has made is her adaptation to the disparity between the education system in Colombia and the United States. "The education is great in Colombia. If it wasn't for the great opportunities I can get in U.S. after graduation, I would've studied back home," said Peña. "The things that I was studying in Colombia when I was in elementary school, I saw again when I was in high school in the United States."

Still, there are many things in the United States that Peña has yet to experience. "The outlets that I can get here can take me so much further than those that I could get in Colombia," stated Peña. "I love that in the U.S., you have more opportunities to do whatever you want to do. You have more opportunities to make your dreams a reality."

From seeing snow for the first time this winter to experiencing her first taste of broadcasting in front of the camera at the Oscars, Peña's time at Hofstra and in New York has given her a series of "firsts" that validate her decision to stay in the United States and pursue a career in broadcast journalism. According to Peña, "If you are living here, and you can make an influence here, then you can make an influence anywhere."

Luz Peña is working hard to fulfill her dream of becoming a broadcast journalist in the U.S. (Photo Courtesy of Luz Pena)

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